Speaking at a panel discussion at the ET Financial Inclusion Summit on how women entrepreneurs can overcome funding challenges, Kitty Agarwal, partner, Info Edge Ventures, and Meena Ganesh, CEO, Portea Medical, agreed that it was important for women to have more role models to look up to.
“Seeing more people like you, around you, is the biggest thing you can do to boost confidence,” said Ganesh.
Agarwal pointed out that at investment firms, it was important to go beyond simply hiring more women.
“It is also important how you support them in their journey. It has to go beyond tokenism and you have to see what has happened and how people are really being helped,” she said.
From recruiting, having the supporting infrastructure and policies in place while working were all important steps to having more women take up entrepreneurship.
The World Bank estimates that nearly three-quarters of working age women in India do not have paid work – this is about 35% of India’s working age population. Further, 35% of women in India don’t use their bank accounts.
While 42% of the agricultural labour force is made up of women, only 2% own farm land. Hence, it becomes critical to unlock the economic potential that nearly 400 million women in India offer. While job creation will continue, to provide equal access to opportunities more women will have to become independent and become job creators.
While 36% of India’s technology workforce is made up of women, the challenge here is that as digitisation picks up pace, more women in data processing roles will be impacted as automation picks up. Hence, providing more avenues of self-employment to women, where they can grow and become job creators, becomes even more important.
Info Edge’s Agarwal said that most firms tend to be male dominated and this could sometimes be an issue when assessing ventures where the target demographic is women. “One of the key things in the industry is how can you have more women at the partner level or have more women come up through the system,” she said.
Another challenge women founders face while pitching for funding is being questioned on their personal life.
Organisations too, need to create an environment which is inclusive and flexible, but also something that isn’t seen as a hurdle for women. “You also have to make the men around realise that these women are serious and their capabilities need to be nurtured and be treated at par with everyone else,” said Ganesh.
While all women may not be able to start their own ventures, Agarwal said companies taking steps to ensure better gender representation also help. “Everyone cannot be a founder or entrepreneur, but if they have a stable salary, then the system might be more open to having them explore that,” she said.
Another cultural challenge women often face is being able to talk about themselves, and the work that they are doing. Ganesh said that irrespective of gender, promoting themselves didn’t come easily to a lot of people. The pandemic has taken away the network aspect that would happen offline, making it easier for women to reach out.
As part of her foundation, Ganesh is working on training women in rural areas who can become healthcare workers in their local communities.
“We are creating women entrepreneurs who can do this without having to leave home and migrate to a bigger town. It is important to not focus only on urban centres but also take entrepreneurship to smaller towns during the pandemic,” she said.
While regulatory changes are not required, Ganesh said that instances like Mann Deshi Mahila Bank, which was for women and run by women, helped.